NICE AND EASY: Can you use a DIRECTV receiver on a really old TV?

Why throw out something that works just fine? If that’s your motto, you probably have an old tube TV lying around. They do die eventually, but it’s very possible that a TV made in the 1990s or even earlier is still perfectly serviceable, that is assuming you want a small, blurry picture and tinny sound. But although I make fun of old TVs, they still work in garages and guest bedrooms where it’s not the quality of the TV, it’s the fact that there is one there at all that’s important.

Standard definition is yesterday’s news

Since 2013, DIRECTV (and later AT&T) have been moving steadily away from standard definition technology. The last standard-def TV was made back in the mid-2000s, and broadcasting officially moved to high-definition in 2009.

Today, you can’t get a standard definition receiver for DIRECTV, and those SD channels are rapidly disappearing. We originally believed that they would all be gone by the end of 2019. They won’t, but it won’t be long afterward. If you have a standard-definition-only receiver, this is the time to change it out for something new.

Here’s how you connect

Since about 2000, it’s been common to see those friendly RCA jacks on the back of a TV, but they’re less common in low-priced TVs from the ’80s and ’90s. Way back when, a TV had one input, and it was for an antenna. DIRECTV’s H24 receiver is still available at Solid Signal and still lets you output that way but it’s the last of the breed. The H25 receiver and later all do away with those jacks on the back, but they don’t do away with that capability. This cable connects to all modern DIRECTV boxes except the 4K client and gives you that yellow video plug and two RCA audio plugs.

Way back when, it was common for consumer electronics to have an “RF” output. This was a coax cable that went straight to the TV so you could watch on channel 2, 3, or 4. None of today’s DIRECTV receivers have that port. What to do then, if your TV only has an antenna input?

Luckily there’s another piece of old technology that’s going strong. It’s called an RF modulator and its sole purpose in life is to convert from those RCA connectors on the back of a DIRECTV box, a VCR, or any 1990s technology into the RF connection needed for truly senior TVs. It’s old tech for sure, but it works just as well as it always does.

It’s going to take some effort

You may be asking yourself if it’s really worth it, especially with new TVs being as cheap as they are. Obviously that’s your call but if you’re looking at a garage or rarely used room, why not get the most use out of an old TV? If you still have one at this point, it will probably last forever. I haven’t seen an SD TV in a few years. I’m guessing the badly built ones have already broken. This means if you still have one it’s got to be either well built or you got very lucky.

So yes, it’s going to take a little extra cost and it’s going to take a little extra work, but you absolutely can keep that old TV going and enjoy today’s entertainment on it. And then, when it eventually breaks… recycle it responsibly.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.